My chair lady

May 01, 2013, 07:39 IST | Asha Mahadevan

Experts, activists debate on decision to increase the number of seats reserved for women in housing society managing committees from one to two

The amendment to the Maharashtra Co-operative Societies (MCS) Act, 1960, by an ordinance issued in February 2013, is already in force. This is likely to be ratified and made permanent by the Legislative assembly in July, after being considered by an expert committee. It has effectively doubled the reservation of seats for women from one to two.

Earlier, only societies with more than 300 members had two seats reserved for women members on their managing committees, whereas now, all housing societies will have two reserved seats for women. While other provisions of the Act are being debated hotly, both male and female activists are welcoming this move to bring more women on board.

Krishnaraj Rao, co-operative housing society activist, opines, “The increase in reservation is an excellent idea. If women actively participate, the society’s functioning is likely to improve. Earlier, even though one seat was reserved for women, the reservation rule was usually not followed, as the elections and formation of managing committees were unsupervised.

Madhu Poplai and Krishnaraj Rao

According to the amended MCS Act, everything is going to become more professional. A State Co-operative Election Authority will oversee the conduct of the elections. Even if women don’t contest the elections, the elected members may fill the seats by co-opting women members, or the general body may nominate two women members. This motivates women to come forward and take their rightful place at the helm of affairs. If they have the right orientation towards society management and proper knowledge of the society’s bye-laws, they can make a substantial difference.”

Ameet V Mehta and Vinod Sampat

According to Rao, women don’t normally come forward to be a part of the committee because of two reasons, “Ignorance of rules and laws, and lack of ability to objectively discuss society management.” He said, “Women, especially housewives who have not been exposed to the business world, feel that laws and bye-laws are do-and-donts rather than guidelines for society management. People tend to ask for something to be done by an office-bearer as a favour rather than as a job.

Jeby Patel and Pearl Goswami. Pic/Atul Kamble

They have a misconception that society secretaries and other office-bearers have huge discretionary powers, and are therefore authority figures. This is not true; society office-bearers only have duties, which are clearly written down in the MCS Act 1960 and bye-laws. This illusion of power and authority has to be dispelled in everyone, especially women. We are organising orientation workshops specially for women so that they become familiar with the Act and bye-laws, and themselves take up the duties as office bearers.”

Good idea
Jeby Patel, activist, said it is a good move. “The main idea is to promote the participation of women as mostly, they are the ones who are more connected to the working of the society. Many women are housewives, and they are available throughout the day to solve any problems,” he said, adding, “Women hardly volunteer to be committee members. The few who come, their voices are never heard. When there is only one woman in the committee, the others will shout her down.

With two women in the committee, each can act as a moral support for the other and maybe get themselves heard.”
Advocate Vinod Sampat feels that women are active participants even now, but agrees that the increase in reservation is a good idea. “Women will have a greater voice. Of the total population of a society, 50 per cent (give or take a few percent) will be women. With two women in the committee, views of women will get greater weightage,” he said.

Not practical
On the other hand, advocate Ameet V Mehta is slightly doubtful about whether the rule can be implemented. “Women on the managing committee will be of great help. Women bring variety in ideas. They also have greater commitment towards the society. On an average, women are less corrupt than men. The rule is a good one, but it is not practical.

What is happening now is that participation of women is coming down. Managing Committees in a society are not able to fill even one seat. How will they fill two seats?” He also cautions, “The specially formed State Election Commission for societies will be involved in conducting elections. They will decide if women in the society are coming forward or not. In case they don’t, then the seat can be given to men to fill those empty seats.”

Meanwhile, women activists are enthusiastic about the provision. “Women make better committee members than men,”" said Neelam Sekhsaria, who is a member of the committee of her housing society in Goregaon. “In many societies, men don’t want to include women in the committee. With the reservation, they have to include women.”

She feels that women don’t come forward the way they should mainly because of two reasons: “Women are particular that they don’t spoil relationships with others by taking hard decisions. Also, it is a tough, thankless job. All women are not mentally prepared to work that hard. Those who work hard are busy with other projects.”

Devote time
Madhu Poplai, secretary, Pali Hill Residents Association, agrees with Sekhsaria that it is a thankless job. “But so is being a housewife. We don’t do naaptol (calculate the returns on investment) when we run a home. Women can work diligently, dedicatedly and with determination to get a job done. This is simply because the women (especially housewives and those who run businesses from their home) are able to devote the time necessary.

Men are often breadwinners and they are able to give their time only on Sundays or holidays. Basic day to day functioning gets hindered due to non-availability of committee members.” She adds, “Housing society committees are male-dominated. A single lady never has a voice. Two are always better than one. Women are at par with men.”

Necessary evil
If women are at par with men, then why the need for reservation? Says Poplai. “Men don’t think women are capable enough. It happened in my society. There was one lady in our committee, and she had no say. She got so fed up, she stopped attending meetings. With two women in the committee, they can support each other. In another 10 years, reservation won’t be necessary. Women in Bandra are already active participants in society committee matters.”

Pearl Goswami, former chairman and currently aspiring to be a committee member of a co-operative housing society in Marine Drive, agrees with Poplai that reservations are necessary. “Sometimes, male members can overpower the female member. If there are two women in the committee, she will have some support. We are not a part of the committee for personal gain. We are here to serve all members of a society.

Male members are often uncouth. We women can create a harmonious atmosphere in society. We can be more involved in the day to day affairs. Men don’t have the time to listen to people’s problems. Women are always there and ready to lend an ear. Thanks to this increase in reservation, now I too can be a committee member.”

Alpha female
Of course, it is not always such an ideal situation of women bringing peace and harmony. Often, women do have to shout and become aggressive to be heard in committees that Rao describes as having “an alpha male setup”. Women too can yell and be aggressive in their actions. Said Goswami, “Yes, there are aggressive women, but mostly, that is not the case.” Poplai refuted the theory and said, “It is just a myth that ladies become aggressive. I have known this woman in the committee who achieved her aim by speaking logically and practically. Anyway, if a woman is aggressive to make her point, if she has to shout to be heard, what is the harm? Why should it be a male prerogative?” she ended.

Workshop Wise
The Maharashtra Societies Welfare Association (MSWA) has organised 3-hour orientation program specifically for women who wish to participate in governance of their societies. Well-known experts and activists will discuss topics such as Principles and Functioning of co-operative societies in general and housing societies in particular, objectives of 97th Constitutional Amendment, new features of amended MCS Act 1960 and new model bye-laws for co-operative housing societies, and forums for redressal.

When: Wednesday, May 1, 2013, from 4 pm to 7 pm.
Where: MSWA, A-2/302, Laram Centre, Opp. Platform 6, Andheri West, Mumbai.
Faculty: Well-known experts & activists on co-operative housing societies.
Fee: Rs 400 per head. If two or more women attend from the same society, they can pay a discounted fee of Rs 300 per head. Fees are inclusive of tea, snacks and printed notes. 

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